USD Magazine Spring 2013

[ e n e r g i z e r ] TENACIOUS DEE I by Mike Sauer Men’s Basketball star leaves it on the floor

braggadocio. “To be able to win it again in my last year, I mean, how can it get better than that?” Actually, it can. Another WCC title would send the squad to the NCAA Women’s Rowing Championships for the first time ever, an impressive and important accomplishment in and of itself, but made more so by the national exposure it provides for USD’s up-and- coming program. Top-level recruits who may have previ- ously thought that west coast rowing begins and ends with the likes of Stanford, USC, Washington and UC Berkeley, might be persuaded to take a chance on a team with a whole lot of upside, as Soper did. “I didn’t want to go to a team that was already established, I wanted to go somewhere where they were building something,” she recalls, smiling. “When I got here, I just could feel that there was something special happening. It’s not just about rowing in this program, it’s about being grateful for the whole opportunity that you’re given, and I think everyone really buys into that.” Coaches and teammates alike admire, and on occasion, marvel at Soper’s ability to keep calm and carry on in even the most hectic of circumstances, which helps explain why she’s been named a team captain twice in four years. When asked to recall a specific circumstance when her cool and collected approach was a key to victory, she blushes and politely declines, choosing instead to highlight the successes of a team that clearly means the world to her. “This program has made me a better person, and I’ll always be grateful for that. Gratitude is just a big part of what we are; being grateful for the efforts of the girls who came before us, and being grateful that we have this opportunity to be exceptional.”

“Above all else, a good coxswain has to be passionate about what they’re doing, and Caite abso- lutely is. She works very closely with me to try and get the best out of each and every one of our athletes, both in practice and on race day.” In the Varsity-8 boat, a cox- swain sits at the back — or, in nautical terms, the stern — and his or her primary function is to steer with hand or foot control- lers that adjust the boat’s rud- der (in the smaller varsity-4 boat, the coxswain steers from the front, or bow). As the only member of the team facing for- ward, she is, in a sense, the brains of the operation; execut- ing race strategy, keeping the crew on task and in time, and, when need be, serving as the resident drill sergeant in order to motivate rowers to give it everything they’ve got — and then a little more. Upon first impression, Soper doesn’t look or sound anything like an intimidating competitor. Sweet and spritely by nature, she’s quick with a smile, and possesses a voice that is defi- nitely more mouse than lion — something that was a bit of an issue for her early on in her ten- ure with the team. “The cox- swain that I was freshman year is totally different than the cox- swain that I am now,“ says Soper, now a senior. “One of the first things coach wanted me to work on was being a stronger person- ality in the boat. I’m not a big yeller, but you don’t have to scream to make a point, and I think the girls know when I need them to step it up.” Under Cupini’s tutelage, Soper has learned some very valuable tricks of the trade, and in her three years as a USD coxswain, she’s had a front-row seat to the

n coach speak, it’s known as a “hustle play,” and it’s all about maximum guts, mini- mum glory, and on some occa- sions, a whole lot of bumps and bruises. Whether it’s a first base- man hurtling into front row, field-level seats in hot pursuit of a foul ball, or a member of an NFL special teams unit risking life and limb to recover an on-side kick, it’s the type of tide-turning effort that can define a game, and even a season. As marksman in-residence for the USD Men’s Basketball squad, it’s a safe bet that guard Johnny Dee will be remem- bered for something far more glamorous than his scrambling, headfirst dive after a loose ball in the first game of the 2012–13 season. After all, he led the team in scoring average as a freshman (nearly 14 points a game), and became an instant fan favorite for his gunslinger’s cool, and willingness to shoot from wherever, whenever. “What’s Johnny’s range? How big is the gym?” quips a fan while watching Dee and his Torero teammates warm up for their season-opener against San Diego Christian. But the shoot-’til-you-drop approach may well be a thing of the past if Dee’s sprawling, belly-first slide is any indication. In fact, to hear him tell it, it seems like he’s dead-set on leading the Toreros in a catego- ry other than shot attempts. “I’m looking to grow defensive- ly, first and foremost,” he says, matter-of-fact. “I know it sounds cliché, but little things make a big difference in helping the team win, and I want to do all I can on both sides of the floor.”

Standing 6 feet and weighing somewhere in the neighborhood of 175 pounds, Dee lacks the length and strength of a proto- typical Division I shooting guard — but don’t tell him that. “I got recruited out of high school, but I didn’t get a lot of looks from the big (Division I) schools because of my size,” he recalls. “But it’s always been my dream to play basketball at the Division I level, and I wasn’t going to give that dream up easily.” A scintillating senior season at Rancho Buena Vista High School put Dee squarely in the recruit- ing crosshairs of many college programs. Ultimately, Portland State University was willing and able to offer a scholarship, and Dee was getting very close to signing on the dotted line. “I knew USD was interested in me coming out of school, but they didn’t have a scholarship avail- able, and Portland State did,” Dee says. “I really loved USD, but I wanted to continue to play basketball, so Portland State seemed like the place to go.” Then fate intervened in the form of a revoked scholarship, and USD assistant coach Mike Burns wasted no time in letting Dee know there was no need to head to the wet and rainy north- west in order to make his Divi- sion I dreams a reality. “Honestly, I really wanted to stay in Southern California rather than go to Portland,” he confesses. “I realize what an amazing place USD is, and to have a chance to play basketball here, with great coaches and great teammates, that’s an opportunity you live for.” Or, if you’re Johnny Dee, dive for. Bumps and bruises be damned.

most successful run in USD Women’s Rowing’s history.

“We’ve won the WCC champion- ships each of the three years I’ve been here,” Soper says without

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